Friday, November 26, 2010

The MLF Program

There are so many differences between my previous educational experiences and Oxford that I could not begin to explain them all in a single post. However, I will try to explain a couple of them.

Unlike US schools with two semesters per year, Oxford has three "terms" per year:  Michaelmas Term runs from October to December, Hilary Term runs from January to March, and Trinity Term runs from May to June.  Most Oxford students take the same classes all three terms and have a single exam at the end of Trinity Term.  However, the Masters in Law and Finance degree (MLF) is set up such that all students take two law "electives" and two "core" MLF classes over the course of the year.

We were able to choose from a variety of law electives, and each elective is taken with other post-graduate law students (BCL and MJur students).  Each student's two law electives run all three terms, and there is one exam for each elective at the end of Trinity Term.  My law electives are (1) Transnational Commercial Law and (2) Principles of Financial Regulation.

The "core" MLF courses are (1) Finance I (Michaelmas Term) which transitions into Finance II (Hilary and Trinity Terms) and (2) First Principles of Financial Economics (Michaelmas Term) which transitions into Law and Economics of Corporate Transactions (Hilary and Trinity Terms).  The core MLF courses are tested at the end of each term, and the thirty MLF students are the only students in these classes.

Tutorial system
Unlike the lectures typically given in US schools, Oxford classes are taught through a combination of lectures, tutorials, and seminars (known as the "tutorial system" which is unique to Oxford and Cambridge). In tutorials and seminars, students are taught by faculty fellows in groups of approximately three to five students. Students typically prepare an essay for each of these, and they receive direct feedback on their essays in a small discussion setting.  Tutorials are thought to be more academically challenging and rigorous than lectures, because during each session students are expected to orally communicate, defend, analyze, and critique the ideas of others as well as their own in conversations with the faculty and the other students.  I cannot speak to the full "Oxford experience" yet, since I do not have any tutorials during this term. I only have lectures in Michaelmas, but my tutorials and seminars will start in Hilary Term (after Christmas break).

However, the lectures are nothing short of fascinating. There is intense reading (mainly articles) to prepare for each class. The teaching style is not the Socratic method common to US law schools, but it is very theoretical.  The lectures present the theory and identify the important questions, but it is up to the students to make the effort to get the practical aspects through independent study.  It is not uncommon for other members of the faculty to attend the lectures, and for them to directly question and/or criticize the concepts presented in class. The lectures are also slanted towards the lecturers' own research and personal views.  Each lecture is three hours long, so we only have one lecture per class each week. Although this may sound like an easy load, I can assure you that it is not! The reading and independent study is much more part of the education than at US schools.

There are not any "required" readings (or textbooks) for any class.  The lecturer typically gives a list of "suggested" readings, but this is by no means a requirement or a limitation.  Although this can be frustrating and seem unstructured, it is also refreshing for a class not to be guided by a single casebook or textbook.  As opposed to my experience with US university libraries (where the library is mainly a place for students to socialize and access a computer), the Oxford libraries are constantly packed with students reading from multiple different sources for each class (which cannot be taken out of the library).

The most enjoyable part of the experience is definitely the other students. I have never met so many interesting and diverse people.  For example, I am part of a study group composed of guys from Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Kenya, and Norway. The MLF students are about evenly divided between those with legal experience and those directly out of law school (I am the second or third most experienced. lawyer of the group).  I am always surprised that everybody automatically assumes that I practiced at  a huge law firm. There are only three other lawyers from the US in the program, and all  of them will probably end up at huge New York law firms. They always look at me strangely when I tell them I practiced with grand total of nine other lawyers (but I always assure them that the boys from Pope Hardwicke can practice law with the best of them).

Teaching Lawyers Business and Math
I may have mentioned this before, but this is the first year that the MLF degree has been offered.  I do not know of any program like it that combines business and law.  It is exciting to be a part of the "inaugural class" and I can tell that Oxford is putting a major effort into integrating its outstanding  Law  School and Said Business School faculties through the MLF program.  It has been interesting to see the lecturers  adapt their styles to overcome the struggle of teaching advanced mathematical and concepts to a group of lawyers.  I am thankful everyday for my Agricultural Engineering degree from Texas A&M!

The MLF crew all dressed up
Of course, it is not all books and studying

Thursday, November 25, 2010


As we face our first holiday away from home, it has been on the forefront of our minds how thankful we are.  Although we could never make a complete list of all the many things we are thankful for, we will try to name a few.
  • We are thankful for a God who has a perfect plan for our lives and loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for our sins.
  • We are thankful for each other and the six wonderful years of marriage that we have experienced (with a lifetime more to come).
  • We are thankful for the unique opportunity to live in Oxford, England.
  • We are thankful for the opportunity to attend school at a world-class university.
  • We are thankful for our supportive families who continue to show their love for us across the pond.
  • We are thankful for wonderful friends who haven't forgotten us, send us packages, and check on us daily.
  • We are thankful for Dustin and Ashley who give us so much peace to know that Oliver is in good hands.
  • We are thankful for the new friends that we have made from all over the world.
  • We are thankful to be citizens of the greatest country in the world.
  • We are thankful that Texas will be the only place that we ever truly call home.
  • We are thankful for our basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter.  Although we don't have many of the luxuries we once took for granted, we have learned you only need a few things to survive...and love!
If nothing else, this experience has made it clear how truly blessed we are!

Thanksgiving, Oxford-style!
Our feast that everyone contributed to
Our gracious host, Daniel, carving the turkey
On our walk home tonight we noticed that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lady Marmalade

I met Lady Marmalade!  I did, and she is right here in Oxford!

She lives in this beautiful home and has a gorgeous garden that I can't wait to see in full bloom when spring finally shows back up!

This is so hard to see, but I wanted to show you the archway in the hedge that leads to her front English!
"Lady Marmalade" is actually my new friend, Jennie, and she is everything you would expect from a proper English lady.  She is one of the dear ladies that organize the Newcomer's Club that I enjoy so much.

Jennie invited me and my friend, Claire, into her home last week to make marmalade.  Marmalade is like a jam or jelly but is only made with citrus fruit.  It is quite a process and it took us all morning to produce about 15 jars.  We will sell our creation at the annual Newcomer's Christmas Fair this week.

We started out with oranges from Seville, Spain.  These oranges are higher in pectin which helps the marmalade "set" and they also have a more bitter taste than most oranges.

We cut the oranges and lemons in half, and then juiced them.  We then removed the pith and pips (new vocabulary for me).  After running the orange and lemon peels through a food processor, we microwaved them for about 12 minutes.

While the microwave was humming, we started to boil the pith and pips to bring out the pectin (say that three times fast).  Once it had boiled for quite some time, we then strained it into the preserving pan with the softened peels.  Don't let my descriptions fool you, it took some elbow grease to stir it fast enough to make the pectin separate and force it through the strainer....was that description clear as mud??  I'm sure Rachel Ray would be greatly disappointed at my wording!

Jennie's hand is moving so fast you can hardly see it!

My "soul sista" Claire working hard!
Next we added the sugar and brought it all to a boil for about 30 minutes...the perfect amount of time for a tea break!

Next came many saucer tests.  Basically Jennie would take a bit from the pot, put it on a chilled saucer and determine if it was ready or not.  Of course she would consult Claire and me each time, but we would just nod and agree with her observation.  I have a feeling she has done this a few times and was just trying to make us feel like we were contributing to the decision making!

After the saucer test was passed, it was time to transfer our beautiful creation into jars.

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ...the real Lady Marmalade!

FYI--do you notice the blurry spot in my pictures?  Well I noticed towards the end of the morning that I had a smear of orange peel on my lens...once again, I'm not the best photographer!

Our finished product!
Once all the jars were filled, we labeled them and decorated the tops with lovely Christmas paper.

We are so proud!
Lady Marmalade and me!  What a sweet lady!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One World Fair

Last weekend I volunteered at the One World Fair and had a blast!

The fair was set up like a trade show and had over 50 different stalls promoting fair trade, human rights and environmental groups.

I've worked many a trade show in my Cotton Board and American Cancer Society days, but I've never had the opportunity to work in a building like this! The fair was held at the Oxford Town Hall which, like most buildings in Oxford, is stunning! I'm not a photographer by any means (plus most people take pictures with their camera, not their phone), but take a look at that ceiling! Isn't is gorgeous? I don't think I will ever become immune to the beauty of the buildings here...they are amazing!

Indigo's super colorful booth

The booth I worked in was actually set up by a really great shop on our road, Indigo. They carry many fair trade items including clothing, toys, purses, jewelry, candles, soap and stationary. Basically anything you would find in a cutesy shop state-side, but most of the items are "fair trade." What is fair trade, you ask? Well, I'm learning myself but I'll try to give you my best explanation with the help of the Fairtade Foundation website:

"Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives."

Because Oxford is such a progressive community, many stores and restaurants carry fair trade items including coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas and some cotton.  (But don't worry Dad, I still promoted West Texas cotton as the best in the world!) Fair trade items can easily be identified by the Fairtrade Foundation logo on the products (similar to a Del Monte sticker on a banana).

I really enjoyed interacting with the customers and learning about all the products. My biggest fear during the day was handling the money. You see, in the USA we rely on four coins to make day-to-day transactions, but in England there are eight coins! I'm so glad we didn't have to teach eight coins to our kindergartners, that would make for one long money song!

From left to right: two pounds; one pound; fifty pence; twenty pence; ten pence; five pence; two pence; and one penny

I worked the booth with my new friend, Henriette. Henriette is from Germany but has been in Oxford for three years so she is a pro at the money game. At one point, she took a break and left me alone with the money bag. I was secretly praying that we would not  have any sales during her break, but of course we did. A lady selected several items and the total came to two pounds and sixty-five pence. Of course she pulled out a twenty-pound note so my money knowledge was put to the test. I was good with the five-pound and the ten-pound note, but then all the coins began laughing at me from the money bag....I promise they did! As I was searching for the correct change my customer got a bit agitated with me and told me in a condescending British accent, "If you would count up from the price of the item, you could make my change." Yep, I was mortified. I explained that I did know how to make change but I was still learning the money so I couldn't seem to find the right coins. Of course she wanted to know where I was from so that gained me a little time as I painstakingly tried to read the print on every coin. FINALLY I was able to complete the transaction and was so so thankful when Henriette came back from her break.  I informed her that from now on she was in charge of the money! This week, I have made it a point to learn all the coins....I will not be embarrassed again...or at least I will make a valiant effort!

Being a small town girl, my eyes continue to be opened to the great needs of our world and I hope that I can do more to help...even if it means just volunteering to work a booth on a Saturday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guy Fawkes Night

We are a bit behind on our bear with us as we catch up.

A few weeks ago with celebrated English-style, Guy Fawkes Night. In order to have a proper celebration, I had to have a history lesson on just exactly what we were celebrating. November 5th marks the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught guarding a hoard of explosives beneath the House of Lords and was arrested. Disaster diverted! Remember, Remember the 5th of November! It struck us as odd that they name the holiday after the villain...after all, Texans do not celebrate Santa Anna day on March 2nd.

There are celebrations held all over town and hosted by a variety of organizations, so we decided to attend the one closest to us. We bundled up and walked about a mile to a great park that we've passed through before. As we got closer, the crowds got bigger and bigger, and the line got longer and longer! There were tons of people standing outside the gate so they could watch the festivities without paying the fee to enter the park. Being the savvy (i.e. cheap) people that we are, we decided to join them for a free fireworks show. The festival inside the fence looked like the midway of a fair. There were food booths, rides, music and people galore. We were quite surprised how big the fireworks were, they were beautiful!
The long line to get in the park
I guess they are re-creating what might have happened if they had not caught Guy Fawkes
After the fireworks came to an end, we noticed that the gate was open and they were no longer charging a fee for entrance. After a little encouragement from Jared, we decided to check out the activities and I'm so glad we did! We had heard that a bonfire was a tradition on Guy Fawkes Night but we didn't see a pile of wood, so we assumed that our venue didn't have one. Just as we were about to leave...we saw the Wicker Man go up in flames on the very far side of the park.
Well, it looked like a Wicker Man before they torched it
The Wicker Man is a burning effigy of Guy Fawkes. This was a bit disturbing to me, but then again, I'm not English. After the Wicker Man burned for a while, the big pile of pallets behind him eventually caught fire and we got to see the bonfire we had hoped for.
Jared's family has a certain affinity for burning piles of wood, so he was instantly mesmerized by the flames
This is my "I have no idea what is going on" pose
As we watched it burn, we feasted on pizza and toffee apples. For clarification, toffee apples are not to be confused with caramel apples. If you are not careful, toffee apples WILL break your teeth! I have a recent history of dental accidents (and neither Dr. Hinkle nor Dr. Street are in England), so I waited to eat mine at home where I could cut it with a knife.

We had a great night and have concluded that Guy Fawkes Night is a blend of a Texas fair, the 4th of July and Aggie Bonfire! All in all we felt right at home....except we nearly froze!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Neighbors...not spelled with a u

During our time in Fort Worth, we were blessed with great neighbors. In 2005, Jeremy and Amy took us under their wing and showed us the ropes of owning an old home, taught us all about our new neighborhood and guided us to a wonderful church. They also convinced us to take our first trip to Europe, so they might be indirectly responsible for our current living arrangements.

Shortly after Jeremy and Amy moved to a different neighborhood, Mark and Linda moved in on the other side of us and they assumed the heavy burden of being our favorite neighbors. Since Linda is a doctor, I asked tons of questions which she patiently answered. I'm quite sure that she's secretly glad we moved before we had children, knowing that I would be that crazy mom to ring her doorbell at midnight because my child coughed!

Thinking back, these two couples were some of the first to know about our crazy plan to move to England. I think it is rare in today's world to have such wonderful neighbors, and we will always miss living next door to them.

In our new land, it's been a bit harder to get to know our neighbors. We try to be likable. We don't blare our Texas music, we don't have wild parties, and I finally convinced Jared to hang his gigantic Texas flag inside (despite his argument that it is an outdoor flag). But dinner party invites.

A new family has recently moved into the flat above us...we can tell by the footsteps on our ceiling. Since we had only seen the parents one day in the stairwell, we were convinced that they worked for the circus and were housing a small heard of elephants!

One morning this past week, our doorbell rang (which is quite unusual in a country where you don't know many people). It was the lady from upstairs...she was frantic and almost tearful. Through her broken English, she explained that she was in the process of taking the trash (rubbish) downstairs when the door to her flat closed behind her and her keys were left inside. Since the doors in our complex automatically lock, she was locked out. She had her two-year old daughter with her (who was not an elephant)... but her seven-month old baby was locked in the flat!

As Jared tried to help her devise a plan to get into the flat, I broke out all of my best kindergarten tricks to entertain the two-year old. It was a long process to find an extra key. The family only has one key because they are in the process of building a new home, and are just staying here for the interim. Because the flat is currently for sale, the owner was able to get in touch with the realtor (estate agent) to come and unlock the door. The entire fiasco probably took about forty-five minutes. As we were trying to "entertain" our guests, we could hear the seven-month old crying upstairs through our ceiling...heartbreaking! We were so thankful that the estate agent was able to come to the rescue.

The next evening we came home to a very special surprise that had been dropped through our mail slot. A very sweet card and a box of chocolates to thank us for our help. We were just happy  that we were able to help, but even more happy that we are able to make friends with our neighbors. They have a long way to go to meet our standards for neighbors, but every day this place feels more and more like home!

Notice the animal on the card.  A bit ironic, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Search of Alice

Christ Church is one of the largest and most prestigious colleges at Oxford. It has a long history of producing well known graduates, including thirteen British Prime Ministers. Its formal name is "The Dean, Chapter and Students of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry the Eighth," so that should tell you something about how its students point their noses (slightly upward).

Christ Church is recognizable as the setting of several movies. Most recently, the Christ Church dining hall served as the setting of all of the Hogwarts dining room scenes in the Harry Potter movies.  We have not been inside yet to see if the candles actually float but we are planning a tour soon.

Another claim to fame is a student named Charles Dodgson that came to study mathematics at Christ Church in 1851. He wrote for the student newspaper and his editor soon gave him his writing name, Lewis Carroll.

A view of the Christ Church Cathedral

In 1856, Henry Liddell arrived as the new dean of Christ Church. Carroll befriended the dean's young family, including his daughter, Alice Liddell. Carroll would tell the children wonderful, imaginative stories during their frequent rowing trips. At the insistence of the children, Carroll finally wrote these stories down. The written descriptions of these adventures were eventually published as Alice in Wonderland.

The bell tower, Great Tom, was designed by guess who? Christopher Wren. The bell is rung 101 times at 9 p.m. Oxford time every night for the 100 original scholars of the college (plus one added in 1664).

Christ Church meadow is a beautiful area right in the heart of Oxford.  Although no history book will tell you this, you can just feel that the stories of the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat were told for the first time in its fields and woods.  If you look closely, I'm sure you will see Alice bounding through the grass or perhaps even see the White Rabbit zip down a hole.  It is a magical place, after all!

Do you see the White Rabbit with his pocket watch?

The meadow is bordered by two rivers, the Thames (called the "Isis" in Oxford) and the Cherwell. These are the very same rivers that Carroll would take the dean's children down and tell them stories of the March Hare and the Queen of Hearts. Today, you can usually see the many rowing teams of the various colleges practicing their strokes.

The boat slips near the meadow house the boats when they are not in use. Each college has a slip with its coat of arms on the door. We hear that during the rowing competitions, the balconies are crowded with students sipping Pimms in their straw hats and cheering on their colleges...I can't wait!

Swans, geese and ducks are abundant in the river.  Once particular goose "fancied" me and decided to chase me a bit....this country girl wasn't having any new friendships with a goose!

Stop looking at me, swan!

The meadow also has a herd of British Longhorn cattle that roam most of the year. During the winter the hay from the meadow is bailed for their food while they stay at a farm outside of Oxford. We were expecting to see something that resembled a Texas Longhorn...but not quite.

Longhorn?  I think not.

The calves were cute, though

The views from the meadow looking back towards Christ Church are amazing:

We have not seen the White Rabbit (yet), but we continue to be amazed at all the beauty that surrounds us!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Here's to You (Mr. and) Mrs. Robinson

Although there are many things to like about England, their mail delivery system leaves a lot to be desired. One package that was mailed to us almost two months ago is still stuck in customs. Despite our bad history with international deliveries, our dear friends Deron and Jessica have it figured out. This past week, we received this bundle of pure Texas goodness from them:

Spices from Pendery's in Fort Worth
And the most amazing part is that the package made it from Tarrant County to Oxford in less than one week. Here's to you, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson!

On the same day that we received their package, I had my first shooting practice with the Oxford University Rifle Club. It was a great time and, although I was a little rusty, I was pleasantly surprised that my marksmanship was not too bad.

The best part of the afternoon was when the club president commented that I must have shot competitively before. I told him that I actually had not, but that I had owned a gun since I was about eight years old.  He then got this horrified look on his face and asked "Where are you from?"  I told him "Texas," and his response was "Rrriiiight."

So, do you think it is a coincidence that (1) on the same day, we received a package full of chili and fajita seasoning and I practiced my aim with the Oxford Rifle Club and (2) we live in a town with a herd of deer corralled in a deer park?
The deer park at Magdalen College
I think not.  Anyone hungry for venison chili?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


As Jared studies away at school, I'm continuing to enjoy the English countryside with the Newcomer's Club.  This week we traveled to Wallingford, a quaint village south of Oxford which can be dated back to the Saxon times.  Wallingford has a wonderful museum where we spent most of our morning learning about the area's history. 

The main attraction of the village is Wallingford Castle which is thought to have been built between 1067 and 1071.  Because of the numerous wars that the Castle has seen, only a few stretches of stone are left.


Cows grazing by a "re-built" castle moat
Although this bridge is not original, it has great details...check out those spikes!

Because the castle was originally built on a hill, higher than the rest of the village, the views were great.  I still can't get over how beautiful the leaves are.  Being a Texas Panhandle girl, I just cannot get used to all these trees!

While walking around the town center, we noticed this group of signs.  Seems like all the essentials are right here.  What else do you need besides church, USA chicken and the loo!